The values the government is projecting from its actions encourage dishonesty and deception and give little space for honesty, efficiency and integrity in bureaucracy
Has the government of K P Sharma Oli achieved anything noticeable in its first year in office? On the positive side people have the feeling that we have a stable government that may—just may—last for five years. The government claims that stability is the first step toward good governance and increased investments. In line with this thinking, the government has been pleading for foreign direct investments with the slogan that a stable government means a reduction in the cost of doing business in Nepal. In his speeches, the prime minister has made it clear that he stands by his promise to act against corruption and improve delivery of services to people. The implied logic is that the present government is honest and clean and is relatively more efficient than in the past in fulfilling its commitments to the people and creating an atmosphere that is conducive to increasing level of investments.
Stability and prosperity
But does a stable government necessarily lead to good governance? Many in Nepal are now raising this question because there is also the possibility that a government with the legitimacy to rule for five years may abuse its power to enrich a few at the cost of the many. There are many instances both in developed and developing countries when elected governments have misused their power and resources to establish a political machine or a political base built on a system of patronage and corruption at all levels in government and politics. Stability in governance may be a necessary condition for development but it does not allow us to conclude that it is also sufficient.
It is true that there is a sense of stability in the country but it is also true that people are increasingly becoming apprehensive of the future. There is a widespread feeling that the government is corrupt and those in power see it as a necessary instrument of everyday politics. When it comes to political rhetoric, ministers, including the PM, make tall promises without any serious home work only to be exposed as nothing but liars. One classic example in this series is the procurement of two wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines, a public sector enterprise wholly owned by the government. The Public Accounts Committee of the parliament investigated this deal and came to the conclusion that over four billion rupees has been swindled in the process. Once this news hit the press the government went on a damage control mode and declared that a special high level committee to investigate the charges has been formed with the instruction that the report had to be prepared within the next 45 days. Forty five days later we now find that the government has not even issued an appointment letter to the chairman of the committee supposed to investigate the case, let alone writing the report. Apparently, the whole idea of announcing the formation of a high powered committee was to divert the attention of the people from this corruption scandal on the belief that people have short memory and that they will forget the whole thing once the announcement is made. The mindset of the ruling establishment seems to be based on the assumption that a government with two thirds majority can get away with all lies and fabrications.
An elected government projects stability and could provide the political foundation for economic and social progress. This is not happening in Nepal. A majority government that is never tired of boasting of its two thirds majority in the parliament is definitely headed in the direction of abusing the mandate of people. One does not have to read the report of Transparency International to realize that corruption is taking an institutionalized form and those who oppose it may be fighting a losing battle. It is a vicious circle where misuse of public trust in the form of corrupt behavior is seen as a vital ingredient in retaining power in the future. In fact, the situation has deteriorated to a level where a government secretary openly accuses his minister of trying to force him to make a decision that is clearly illegal and corrupt. In the meantime, the government remains a helpless bystander in this whole process, incapable of asking either the minister or the secretary about such serious acquisition. Naturally, in a short span of one year, faith in the credibility of Oli government to lead the nation has taken a nosedive. This is alarming. However, hearing the speeches of the prime minister it seems that he is totally oblivious of the reality and confident that the nation is finally on the path to peace and prosperity. In this scenario the only ingredient that the government sees lacking is foreign direct investment which we are told will flow in no time since the ruling party has two thirds majority in the parliament.
It was Francis Bacon who once wrote that the “privilege of absurdity is a phenomena that characterizes no other creature but man”. The leadership in Nepal seems like a willing victim of this privilege. To think that a majority government is all that is needed to lift the country from its present morass of corruption and fraud is a reflection of this privilege. The values that the government is projecting from its actions encourage dishonesty and deception and give little space for honesty, efficiency and integrity in the bureaucracy. The effort seems to be focused on using the state mechanism primarily for supporting the ruling party financially or otherwise rather than addressing the basic needs of the people in an impartial and hassle-free manner. FDI in this setting is discouraged because the transaction cost of uncertainty and corruption erodes profitability.
Foreign policy flaws
In external affairs the policy of Oli government lacks strategic coherence and it does not inspire confidence among our friends, both in the region and outside. The flip-flop style of Prime minister in the BIMSTEC conference regarding participation of Nepal military in an Indian sponsored exercise is a case in point. Similarly, the outburst of the leadership of the ruling party against the US, a country that has remained friendly and helpful to Nepal for over seven decades since the establishment of diplomatic relations, in a language characteristic of Cold War period reflects a reckless attitude that has utterly failed to appreciate the strategic interests of Nepal.
For a relatively small country like Nepal security and prosperity calls for a high level of diplomatic skill that helps to maintain a fine sense of strategic balance among friends in the region and beyond to maintain their confidence in our ability to understand their concern while being conscious of our own national interests. It is probably one of the most important instruments we have at our disposal to strengthen our independence, democracy and prosperity. But the casual and off-the-cuff attitude of the government is disturbing and dangerous. We need a rebalance in our external relations.
I do not think the present government is up to the task.
The author is Chairman of Rastriya Prajatantra Party (United)